The pandemic and social unrest of 2020 accelerated change at a rapid pace for individuals, corporations and communities, L.A. business and tech leaders said during a virtual panel discussion. They predicted 2021 will be an opportunity for tech growth.

Upfront Managing Partner Mark Suster, Valence co-founder and COO Emily Slade and entrepreneur, athlete and investor Baron Davis spoke to dot.LA during its final Strategy Session event of the year. The challenges of 2020 were a common theme.

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The L.A. tech and startup community was active as ever this week. dot.LA chief host and correspondent Kelly O'Grady takes you through the key points of the top five headlines:

  • Green Rush: The Incredible Rise and Fall of L.A.'s Genius Fund
  • How the WeChat Ban Could Ripple Through California Tech
  • Ridesharing App HopSkipDrive Announces Layoffs
  • Watertower Ventures Closes $50M Second Fund
  • With $5.25M Boost, Valence Aims to Redefine How Black Professionals Connect
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Valence is trying to be more than just a LinkedIn for Black professionals. It's trying to narrow the wealth gap, with help from algorithms.

The social networking platform for Black professionals launched last year and has already attracted 10,000 members. It just got a $5.25 million boost from a Series A round led by GGV Capital.

It's now aiming to get to 100,000 members over the course of the year. Part of that effort will mean hiring engineers and developers who can help refine its database and allow members to make meaningful connections beyond their alma maters, locations and shared employers.

Valence is developing a "customization engine for people in their career journey," said CEO Guy Primus, who took the helm in June.

"We want to take the data a level further and be able to customize again the reason for the interactions, as opposed to just a first level connection or a geography or a school," he said.

"We want to be able to have some type of algorithm for why people connect and not just, you know, the superficial reasons that most people connect."

The former chief executive of the Virtual Reality Company said he is looking at how Valence can use its existing data set to build out a platform that connects people along their lines of interest and other factors that aren't always clear from the kind of standard resume fare found on LinkedIn.

Valence is positioning itself as a tool for corporations looking to diversify their ranks, but it's also establishing itself as a platform for founders.

Last month, the company launched a funding network that connects investors with rising Black founders, curating investment opportunities for pre-seed stage entrepreneurs.

The effort dovetails with its mission to narrow the wealth gap and open up opportunities.

Valence points out that only 3% of Silicon Valley's workforce population is Black, there are 3 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black.

That helps explain why Black Americans make up nearly 13% of the population, but have only 3% of its wealth.

Sean Mendy, a founding partner at Concrete Rose Capital in the Bay Area, helped facilitate many of those funding connections for Valence. What surprised him was just how early entrepreneurs were in their company development, but he said it made perfect sense given the lack of capital access Black Americans had.

"Traditionally it's been difficult for Black professionals to take the lead in starting companies because of the lack of capital," he said.

Fuller, a general partner for Upfront Ventures, which participated in the round and helped incubate the company, co-founded Valence out of frustration with the lack of networks startups and others had to black talent.

"The goal of creating a fluid bridge between Black Talent and economic opportunity and development couldn't be more important in today's world," said co-founder Kobie Fuller in announcing the round.

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